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Coast homeowners given ray of hope

PUBLISHED: 14:55 30 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:30 03 July 2010

Coastal campaigner: Malcolm Kerby.

Coastal campaigner: Malcolm Kerby.

HOMEOWNERS threatened with losing their properties to coastal erosion have been given a “groundbreaking” ray of hope of compensation.

A government minister has signalled to Norfolk campaigners that payouts could be on the cards to individuals whose seaside homes are lost through failing and abandoned defences.

HOMEOWNERS threatened with losing their properties to coastal erosion have been given a “groundbreaking” ray of hope of compensation.

A government minister has signalled to Norfolk campaigners that payouts could be on the cards to individuals whose seaside homes are lost through failing and abandoned defences.

The breakthrough has been welcomed by those on the front-line who have been battling for preferably better defences or, if not, social justice for those facing seeing their homes tumbling with the crumbling cliffs.

Communities in danger have already had indications they could get government help under a new “adaptation toolkit” being worked out by officials, though details remain sketchy.

But confirmation that individual homeowners could also get assistance has thrilled campaigners in north Norfolk who have been playing a leading role in a battle that has implications across the nation.

The admission came from Defra minister Huw Irranca-Davies during a meeting of the cross-party group of MPs looking at coastal issues, chaired by north Norfolk Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb.

When quizzed by Coastal Concern Action Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby, from Happisburgh, about whether the help would extend to individuals, the minister said “yes.”

Mr Lamb said he was “amazed”, adding: “We don't know if it is going to be good enough but this is a positive step in an area where Norfolk has led the way.”

His main concern was that any good intent could be hampered by the growing pressure in the economic downturn on public spending.

Mr Kerby, who has been closely involved with a government think tank on helping communities cope with climate change and erosion, said: “The details will not be known until an expected announcement this summer but this is groundbreaking.”

There was “uproar” and public anger when new coastal defence policies were announced in 2005. They aim to abandon some long-standing rural sea defences at popular holiday villages such as Mundesley and Overstrand and only protect a few key spots such as Cromer, Sheringham and the Bacton gas site.

The threat of being left to the mercy of the sea has blighted some communities and Mr Kerby said the prospect of compensation would help lift that cloud.

His action group's priority remained striving to bolster defences but that was a tightrope - and compensation was the safety net.

The abandonment of defences has caused problems for property owners all along the coast, including Happisburgh resident Jane Archer's. Her bungalow 60m from the clifftop, bought for £20,000 more than 20 years ago, hit the headlines last year when a valuer priced it at just £1.

She said the prospect of compensation was a “glimmer of hope” but added: “I am not holding my breath until the details became clearer.

“We might only get a certain percentage of the value or it might involve compulsory purchase and lease back. We need to see something in writing before getting too hopeful.”

The news emerged at a weekend discussion on the challenges of coastal living hosted by the Poppyland Partnership at Cromer, where Mr Lamb said the impact of climate change should not be borne by coastal dwellers alone as the issue was global.

He welcomed the positive stance of new US president Barack Obama who was “taking the issue more seriously than his predecessor.”

Mr Lamb was also encouraged by “very good news” of a recent £10m investment by the Environment Agency in beach recharges to bolster the shore between Happisburgh and Winterton.

And this summer a new national co-ordinating group for coastal campaigning groups, including CCAG, is due to be launched at a Westminster conference - giving communities under threat a louder voice.

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